'This moment in history demands it': Sweeping changes to budget, policy proposed for Austin police after protests
The Austin City Council is poised to order sweeping changes to police work, responsibilities and spending as early as this week, members said on Monday, a day after thousands marched peacefully to protest police brutality.
A package of resolutions addressing everything from the budget for the Austin Police Department to its staffing, from its use of force during arrests and protests to the very types of calls police should address, is up for a vote at the regular Austin City Council meeting Thursday.
"Our black and brown communities deserve it, our city needs it, and this moment in history demands it," said Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, a member of the council's judicial committee, which sponsored the proposals.
Some of those measures, like bans on the use of tear gas in protests and limits on no-knock warrants, can go into effect right away, said Council Member Greg Casar, another committee member.
Others, including proposed staffing reductions and budget cuts at the Austin Police Department, won't be officially addressed until budget season later this year.
"These are not problems that can be fixed overnight, but the backlog is so big we can kick this journey off with a flurry of activities," said Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who is also on the committee.
Several protesters were seriously injured during clashes with officers during the first week of demonstrations over the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May and Michael Ramos in Austin in April.
Resolutions appearing on the agenda for Thursday's regular City Council meeting propose changes including police use-of-force reforms, an audit of Austin police disciplinary procedures, a rewrite of the department's general orders, capping police staff at current levels and redirecting those budget dollars to community-based prevention strategies. They also address housing for former inmates and other community issues.
The resolutions appear to have broad support of the council and Mayor Steve Adler. The press conference on Monday only included the four sponsors, and Adler, as open meetings laws prohibit a quorum of council members from meeting without public notice.
Garza and Casar, another member of the judicial committee, have both suggested that Austin Police Chief Brian Manley step down as an act of good faith and the first step toward systemic change in the department.
They and two others, including Judicial Committee Chairman Jimmy Flannigan, last week expressed criticism over Manley's handling of recent police protests—as well as heading up a department that they said is generally slow to respond to council directives. Manley joined the force in 1990 and became chief in 2018.
Asked Monday if they would be taking that further, members did not repeat their call for Manley to resign and noted that City Manager Spencer Cronk alone has the authority to decide whether Manley stays.
Cronk last week issued a statement in support of Manley and city officials told Austonia on Friday there is no movement afoot to replace him.
But one of the resolutions does include a statement of no confidence in department leadership.
"We can express our opinion, as many of us have, but we are prohibited in interfering in personnel decisions," Casar said.
Said Harper-Madison: "We're basically asking our manager to heed the concerns and recommendations of the community and our constituents regarding Chief Manley's future with the Austin Police Department."
The resolutions, which include Items 50, 93, 95, 96 and 97 on the agenda, can be found here. Changes will be addressed formally in the regular meeting of the Austin City Council on Thursday.
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